BRITISH university relations with Europe could suffer unless the Government clarifies tuition fee arrangements for EU students, the British Council has warned.
No mention was made in the Dearing report of the effect on European Union students of charging an annual Pounds 1,000 fee.
But David Elliott, director of the council's higher education UK partners division said offices overseas were demanding to know what was happening. "The implications for EU students do need to be thought through and explained to the EU authorities so they don't get caught unawares and don't feel we are discriminating against them," he said.
EU treaty requirements prevent countries discriminating against EU students on the basis of nationality. This means that while EU students will have to pay the tuition fee from 1998, like UK students, they should also have the same access to the means-tested grant proposed by the Government.
But means-testing could prove difficult because of different financial arrangements in each country.
Mr Elliott said Britain was popular with EU students because it was relatively cheap. "Whatever the administration arrangements are, if EU students are going to be required to meet some of their costs, one can only suppose it will be some deterrent," he said.
He suggested tuition fees may lead to more wealthy European students, such as Germans, and fewer students from the Republic of Ireland and Greece.
Under present rules, EU students get a grant to cover their fees in the same way as home students. It is usually paid by the local education authority where they are studying. They are not eligible for maintenance grants or loans unless they have been resident for three years.
Alex Duncan, policy officer at the Local Government Association, said: "If a fee contribution of up to Pounds 1,000 is means-tested for UK students then it will also have to be means-tested for those from the EU. It's going to be horrendously complicated."
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said EU students would be expected to pay tuition fees and the intention was to means-test them for grants but officials were still working out the details. They will not get loans.
She said students also had to pay towards their tuition in Spain, Italy and France.